Dear Friends of San Francisco Hillel,

As you know, last week Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was prevented from speaking at SF State. Many of you have seen disturbing videos and read troubling reports of what happened.   

I want to update you on what's been going on behind the scenes, and put the Mayor's visit in its appropriate context. 

What Has Happened

First, following SF Hillel's statement last week, and a joint call for investigation and action by SF Hillel, Hillel International, and SF Hillel faculty advisor Marc Dollinger, University President Leslie Wong responded with a statement announcing an investigation and acknowledging that the Mayor and gathered students had been deprived of their rights to speak and to listen.  

Following extensive communication and coordination, President Wong will meet this coming week with Jewish student leaders at SF State, and major Jewish community leaders from the Bay Area, to discuss how the University will ensure that events like last week do not happen again. 

What Needs to Happen

When President Wong meets with our students, he will hear how shaken they were by (1) the deprivation of their right to speak, listen and participate in a robust exchange of ideas; (2) being subjected to aggressive, hostile and vulgar abuse. He will hear their strong and justified questions about their place in the campus community.

But this goes beyond one particular event, or one particular group. The real question our students want answered is how the university will ensure that everyone's voice is heard and respected. This requires the commitment of the entire University community to creating a diverse place of learning that is tolerant, respectful and dedicated to its academic mission.

This will not happen with public statements and meetings alone. It requires concrete actionable steps and leadership by the University to re-shape the culture on campus. Hillel, along with JCRC, JCF, ADL and other relevant community leaders, are working with the University to ensure this happens. And this necessarily needs to prioritze student voices, from the entire campus community, as this is a university-wide issue. 

We have received many, many phone calls and emails, asking details about the event, our role, the University's role, and what we're actually doing about this. Rest assured, we have - and continue to - take every step to ensure the safety of Jewish student life on campus, and that we are working very hard to continue to improve the climate on this campus. Our goal is long-term, substantial changes rather than easy, quick bandaids, and this requires patience and understanding. 

Why This Is Frustrating

What's been missing in all the attention to the Barkat event is all the changes we've already helped bring to campus. 

Our students who support Israel realized several years ago that aggressive confrontation on the quad (1) was not who they wanted to be as people; and (2) more fundamentally, was a completely ineffective strategy. Being the exact opposite of the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) was not changing anybody's mind - no-one was listening. 

Since then, the students embarked on a sophisticated and impressive program of coalition building on campus. This goes beyond a superficial "come to our events and we'll come to yours" approach. Our students have built real substantive relationships based on shared values, and understand on a deep level what really matters to other groups.

And it has worked. We regularly see student government leaders, and members of the Black, Latino, LGBT and Women's Center student leadership at Shabbat. And we've also sent leaders of those groups to Israel, where they see for themselves that simple, one-sided narratives do not reflect the complicated, rich and amazing realities there.

Don't get me wrong. There is still a lot of work to do, and anti-Israel rhetoric sometimes appears in unexpected forums on campus. But our students have felt more integral in campus life and dialogue, while GUPS has increasingly radicalized and marginalized itself. If you know the unfortunate history of SF State, the fact that GUPS was not joined by a broad alliance of other groups during Mayor Barkat's event, is a small sign by itself.  

But it is definitely frustrating when an outlier event - albeit a very significant and concerning one - attempts to overshadow all the incredible work our students have been doing.

How You Can Help

Bringing about long term-change is not easy.  There are many moments of progress, and some moments when things go backwards. We've just seen one - and I can't promise there won't be more. 

But support us.

And I don't just mean financially.

Really support us. Reply to me with a message I can pass on to our staff and students at tonight's Shabbat telling them how proud you are of all they're doing. And trust that, as the organization that invests day-in and day-out in student life, we have their interests at heart, and will create the best possible environment for them to thrive on campus.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ollie Benn
Executive Director
San Francisco Hillel

San Francisco Hillel is a beneficiary of The Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, The Walter & Elise Haas Fund, The Koret Foundation, and The Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund. San Francisco Hillel is accredited by Hillel International: The Foundation For Jewish Campus Life. 

You can make a donation to SF Hillel here.

Our mailing address is: 
33 Banbury Drive, San Francisco, CA 94132
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